Posts tagged technology

Robot Readable World is an interesting video made from recorded footage of computer vision sytems. Despite the fact these ‘behind the scenes’ images are actually generated for the benefit of the humans programming and debugging such systems, as computers don’t really ‘see’, I still find them somewhat creepy. To me, all look like Terminator-vision. (via Boing Boing)

Misc. links Nov 25th - Dec 12th

One of the founders of Netscape demolishes the ‘startup work ethic’: while some poor geek kills himself in a orgy of work and stay-awake drugs, some venture capitalist reaps most of the rewards while doing nothing. It’s true a few of these geeks will eventually get rich, but no human being should be thought of as a race horse. People should work 100 hours a week if they like it, not because someone sold them this idea it’ll get them rich — do yourself a favor and go buy some lottery tickets if you believe that, at least you’ll get your destiny sorted out far quicker.

Malcom Gladwell writes about Steve Jobs’ Real Genius. I know, I know: I too get sick when I read my feeds and see yet another article about Jobs!? Still, this one is good, and one of the few I’ve seen that demonstrates Steve Jobs was, first and foremost, an insufferable mix of perfectionist and plagiarist — a dictator who happened to be in business, not politics.

The Curse of Xanadu. An entertaining (and long) read about the long and fruitless development of Ted Nelson’s Project Xanadu hypermedia system, going on since 1965 and which had its first (kind-of) release in 2007. Classic Wired from 1995.

Two good ones from Thought Catalog: No One’s Real Anymore muddles through Modern Man’s lack of coherence (even though you could argue — successfully — that’s not a ‘bug’, but a ‘feature’); and Losing Your Metaphorical Virginity, which is said to be regained whenever people find themselves in love (and I think I do agree).

Lightworks looks set to be the first decent open-source video editing software. I’m yet to invest real time in it, but so far it feels a little weird: the UI is too messy, and I found it shares the Avid philosophy of taking over an entire hard drive and pre-converting every single piece of media you import. Which is good if you are using Lightworks in a dedicated machine, but is an awful idea in my laptop. Anyway, the feature set is impressive — I’ll still try editing some small projects in it.

This looks like a very well-conceived HTML and CSS course. I’m tempted to watch some of the classes myself. indexes HTML, CSS, DOM and Javascript/jQuery documentation in one convenient place with a nice simple interface. File under Extremely Useful.

A good list of tips and resources on improving a website’s performance.

The Arty Bollocks Generator writes tedious artist statements for you. How long until someone gets a text generated here published? You know it’s bound to happen. See also: acb’s Postmodernism Generator. Exactly what it says.

Misc. links Oct 15th - Nov 24th

The Internet as Hyperbole — A Critical Exhamination of Adoption Rates by Gisle Hannemyr is a paper with compelling arguments against the popular perception that people adopted the Internet much faster than other new communication technologies such as radio or television. The demonstration much ICT policy is based on a meme-ified anedocte makes this a compelling read.

Neal Stephenson on Innovation Starvation. That’s what happens to nations full of Nixons.

Charlie Stross writes about the existential quagmire of the ultra-rich, the ways most of us are richer than the ultra-rich of past generations, and the ways the ultra-rich are not rich at all.

George Monbiot on how the elites became destroyers of wealth. Much is made clear by xkcd’s crushing, epic Money infographic.

A short guide to lazy EU journalism. Granted, as even though I consider myself a literate European I do have a lot of trouble understanding how the EU institutions work. These lazy journalists won’t help. Please do your job already!

Christian Thorne’s two-part essay (part one, part two) on Quentin Tarantino’s Inglorious Basterds is one of the best pieces of film criticism I have ever read.

It appears a Russian filmmaker called Ilya Khrzhanovsky took over a large part from the Ukrainian city of Kharkov and turned it into a 24/7 film set. And that has been going on for five years. Almost resembles a real-life Synecdoche, New York.

Stu Maschwitz’s totally inconclusive guide to choosing a pro video camera. We live in a glorious era of wonderful and affordable imaging technology, but in a depressing age of nitpicky trade-offs and difficult choices.

Misc. links Aug 30th - Sep 11th

Free online courses by famous philosophers. Since I’m really getting into watching OpenCourseWare videos (at least until the fifth season of Mad Men starts), perhaps I’ll put some of these on my watchlist.

Was Marx Right? A very relevant article, published not in some Pravda but in the Harvard Business Review. Mind you, I think the fact that the author spends the first three paragraphs in apologies and explaining he isn’t a communist is quite revealing about our societies’ mindset. Even if the communist remedies tried in the past were catastrophic failures, that doesn’t necessarily mean the Marxist diagnostic is wrong. For the most part, it is not.

Ikea Heights is a soap opera filmed in Ikea stores. While open. And without the staff noticing. Good job!

License plate SQL injection for the win! Could this be real? I guess someone read this.

Codecademy is a good (and fun!) place to learn yourself some Javascript. The interactive tutorial is still pretty short, but hopefully it’ll grow.

3D computer graphics done in 1972, by one of the founders of Pixar. As impressive as it may be, I still find it short of the awesomeness of Ian Sutherland’s Sketchpad demonstration from nine years earlier. I mean, that one still is pretty awesome today.

What People Don’t Get About My Job — from A(rmy Soldier) to Z(ookeeper). An interesting set of testimonials.

The evolution of the Web. A cool visualization of the evolution of web browsers and technologies since 1990. Things really got out of hand in the last few years…

Misc. links Aug 19th - 29th

Browsers running Javascript are the hottest thing right now in visuals programming: vvvv has its .js counterpart; while the toxiclibs have been ported for use in Processing.js.

Bootstrap, made by Twitter, looks like a good approach to a HTML+CSS framework.

Falsehoods programmers believe about names. A fascinating read about the actual complexities of implementing something as simple as people’s names in an application. (via Boing Boing)

Convoluted TOS and ‘open’ APIs will be the death of us. A good rant on the pitfalls of using public web APIs and being subjected to the whims and Terms of Service of whoever provides it. Open APIs allow people to do great stuff, but there will always be issues of trust. Handle with care.

A transcript of Charlie Stross’ talk Network Security in the Medium Term, 2061-2561 AD. Worth a read if only for the idea that network security is increasingly synonymous with identity security — as Stross points out, if our existence also manifests itself in bits, protecting those bits becomes a very basic need.

A DSLR controller for Android. Looking at this made my Android 2.1 phone go from ‘great’ to ‘piece of shit’ instantly (as it requires Android 2.3). Even though I’d probably not use this app that much.

90 percent of people don’t know the shortcut to find a word in a webpage. Actually, one of the things I miss from Firefox (I use Chrome) is the option to search-as-you-type. But hitting Ctrl+F is not that much work.

Tom Waits on the difficulty of throwing a private listening party in this day and age.

Kingdom Rush (Flash game) is definitely not recommended visiting unless you want to lose the next few hours of your life. (via Kottke)

The paperlike device

So I finally lost it and bought a Kindle. Sure I have blogged against Amazon’s stupid policies in the past, and the Kindle seems the nexus of such. But on the other hand, I did want an e-reader that doesn’t suck, and nowadays it’s indeed hard to find electronics/internet companies not behaving like assholes in some ways. It’s easy to choose some lesser evil over Apple (I also bought an Android phone recently, and intend to post some remarks soon), but in the e-reader landscape the choice seems between the proprietary and good, the (little more) open and expensive, and the cheap and utter rubbish. So I did order a Kindle 3, and I’m keeping backups just to be on the safe side.


Why the Kindle is the best device ever: the screen. It’s exactly like paper. After a while, you forget you’re holding electronics. It’s paper, even if a bit on the glossy side (but no worse than the stuff many magazines are printed on). It’s crisp, it’s easy on the eyes, it’s magical. Of course, it’s so much like paper you’ll need a light, but it’s okay: because it’s like paper. So good, I find myself turning it on and off and on and off again just to look at the gorgeous random ‘screensaver prints’ that come up when you turn it off. The refresh-only-on-demand paperlike screen also comes with another benefit: battery life. I charged the thing once when I got it two weeks ago, have been using it every day, and the battery indicator is only down one notch. Amazon claims one-fucking month of battery life, and they seem to be telling the truth. The Kindle also has decent WiFi connectivity (I didn’t go for the 3G version, and even though Amazon provides free 3G Internet worldwide, the browsing experience is so bad I don’t regret it — more on that later), which enables me to get stuff on the Kindle over the Internet. I’m already used to an automated daily Instapaper digest — the morning newspaper for the 21st century, and I doubt I’ll ever run out of stuff to read. The Kindle also comes preloaded with two dictionaries, and I love the nice touch of being able to navigate to any word in a text and having a definition pop up. Truly useful. And best of all, it all comes in a light package: the device along with the (by the way overpriced) cover weights less than an A5 Moleskine.

Why the Kindle is a piece of crap and deserves market death: The screen is too damn small. They say the Kindle is the size of a paperback, and they are right. But paperbacks don’t have oversized bezels and keyboards. In fact, the reading area is pocket-book sized. But still, there’s the larger Kindle DX, so I guess this one’s on me. The Kindle opens PDFs, but unless you format them for the small screen you’ll be scrolling a lot and zooming in a lot or reading really teeny tiny type. Perhaps the DX PDF experience is better, but then again, the PDF reader is so slow Adobe Reader in a malware-infested Pentium III feels zippy by comparison. Ditto for the Web browser. Even though it’s Webkit-based and capable of rendering modern websites pretty accurately, it’s an usability nightmare. And to make it worse, even though one wouldn’t actually expect tabbed browsing on a Kindle, a target=”_blank” link is all it takes to hit a brick wall, with a dreaded error message to the effect of “The Kindle browser doesn’t support opening multiple windows”; with no way to open the link in the same window. Amazon may have even put the browser under an ‘experimental’ menu (despite the fact many regular Kindle functions will automatically open the browser), and they may be worried about the cost of the whole “free worldwide 3G Internet” thing, but do they need to punish users connected via their home WiFi networks?

The Kindle is so full of ergonomical nonsense it’s ridiculous. The browser may be the worst of it, but usability WTFs are a Kindle staple. The menus and the navigation feel like an afterthought, as irritating as a MS-DOS productivity interface. The keyboard manages to be too big and small at the same time, and the relegation of numbers to the ‘symbol’ menu really made my day when I had to enter passwords, the ironic thing being cellphone QWERTY keyboards a quarter of the size are endlessly more pleasant to use. Not to mention the awkward position of the Menu, Home and Back buttons; and the way the D-pad is not only bad but seems placed wherever the designers found a place it would fit.

However, 95% of the time, you’ll be looking at the gorgeous-but-small paperlike screen, and using the big and rather well placed (in comparison with the ergonomical bankruptcy of the rest) page-flip buttons. And that’s what counts. If you look at the Kindle as electronics, it’s an infuriating piece of shit. But if you look at it as a reading medium, it’s quite swell. I’ve been taking mine with me every day.

The World of Tomorrow!

Yesterday I attended an academic conference at the Future Places festival that’s happening right now right here in Porto. I normally tend to be wary of such conferences, having previously seen my fair share of the “I’m a genius who knows magic and you’re not” attitude, so I was very pleased by the “Just do it, things do get easy when broken down in small problems!” message that prevailed in today’s presentations, which included, among others, a very interesting and entertaining keynote presentation by Golan Levin. However, by that time I was already dumbstruck by the relatively small presentation by Zach Smith of Thingiverse and Makerbot, about the subject of 3D printing — that is, desktop factories.

For now (and probably for a few decades still), 3D printers only ‘print’ plastic, but still — I held objects that felt right out of the fucking Diamond Age. Need a plug for your bath? Print it! A toy train for your nephew? Print it! A coat hanger? Print it! In time, no doubt people will be sharing the 3D models that will allow you to print more complicated things. Right now, everything that is made of plastic can be ‘printed’ (wouldn’t ‘sculpted’ be a better word?) right there on your desktop. At the moment the Makerbot 3D printer is sold as a kit you have to assemble, but so did the MITS Altair in 1975, and it only took a couple of years after that for ready-to-use microcomputers to hit the retail shelves. I’m only wondering how much will HP ask for a plastic ‘refill’…